WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 18, 2011) -- For the second year in a row, the Army Audit Agency ranked second in the 2011 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government.

This distinction was formally announced Nov. 16 during a ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building Pavilion.

The Best Places to Work rankings, produced by the Partnership for Public Service and the American University Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation, measures employee satisfaction and commitment in the federal government.

The data used to develop these rankings was collected by the Office of Personnel Management through its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The Army Audit Agency took second in the sub-component agencies category.

One of the missions of the Army Audit Agency is to protect Army interests by assessing the effectiveness of Army programs. With 577 auditors and other professionals in 24 worldwide offices, including Afghanistan and Kuwait, surveys for Army auditors are nothing new.

"Army Audit has always been doing surveys, internally. We have so many different generations (in our workforce), so we want to make sure that we're keeping everybody happy and everybody pleased," said Joseph S. Toth, an Army Audit Agency program director at AAA headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

But there are other reasons why the agency comes in as one of the best places to work.

"We have traditionally treated our employees as family," said Debbie Marois, program director at AAA Strategic Planning & Communications.

The agency has a mentor program, she said, focused on developing leadership and interpersonal skills, as well as:

• Balancing work with life through telework and alternate work schedules

• Leveraging diversity of backgrounds, education, training and experiences which helps make the agency a more engaged organization

• Improving human capital management with 25 initiatives

• Using numerous tools to recognize performance such as blogs, email, and awards, including monetary, time-off, and honorary such as the Auditor General's Leadership Award which goes to about 30 auditors and professional staff members each year.

"Our management does follow this (by looking) at the temperature and the culture of the organization and what people want," Toth said.

"Management wants to hear. It's an open door policy. We always say that, but this is truly an open door policy. You have an issue, come on in and let's hear what you have to say and let's put the cards on the table ... because again, you're looking for productivity and if somebody's not happy or if something's bothering somebody, then that means their mind is distracted and they're not doing their work.

"And if they're not happy, they might not come to work, but you need them to come to work in order to get the work done, so the whole intent is -- a happy employee is a productive employee; a productive employee keeps management happy and keeps the taxpayers happy.

"The employees like working for the public, especially for the military and seeing the value they give back to the military and military families," Toth said. "Because the impact you have when you're auditing ... many times you are impacting the morale or the equipment that Soldiers can get, or the families."

He said that AAA makes sure they're using taxpayers' dollars wisely, because they live in a glass house.

"We have to maintain a high integrity and standards because it just doesn't look right for us to be throwing those same rocks and being critical of someone else," Toth said.

And with today's technology, a lot of meetings can be held through VTCs, or teleconferencing, especially for high level meetings. But the nature of AAA's work involves actually traveling to the site and visiting the people doing the work.

"In order to audit, you have to travel, because you can't audit just by conversation," Toth said. "You have to collect the data, you have to collect documentation and sometimes during interviews you can't see the body language. And if someone mentions 'oh, I did this,' you could always ask him, 'well, can I get a copy of that,'" Toth said.

Another way of saving taxpayer dollars is through sharing.

Auditor organizations have to share, Toth said.

"We communicate with the Air Force Audit, the Navy Audit, GAO, DOD Inspector General, we all share information with each other, and we're required to, to make sure that since there's so many auditor organizations, that we're not duplicating each other. So before we start an audit, we coordinate with them and say here's the audit we're doing, are you doing something similar, so we're not tripping over each other's feet. There's so much work to be done, there's no reason why you need to have the same organizations looking at the same issues," he said.

"The workforce believes in and supports Army mission -- and the Army believes in us due to our collaborative approach. Our audits have saved the Army over $2 billion annually for the last four years (Return on Investment of $32 to $1). This gives the workforce a great sense of accomplishment," said Marois.

The job is so great because it's different, Toth said.

"It's not the same job every day. You're always out doing a different audit. Today, it might be contracts, tomorrow it might be maintenance, the next day it might be a human interest audit ... something involving a Soldier's pay.

"You're truly giving back to the community," Toth said.

The challenges AAA will face in the near future, Marois said, that could affect its ability to retain the reputation as a Best Place to Work in the Federal Government, are many, including:

• Continuing to recruit, hire, train, develop, and reward the brightest and most talented candidates within current budget constraints

• Continuing to improve every aspect of the organization and productivity, both internally with the staff and externally with Army leaders

• Identifying more ways to continue to keep the workforce engaged while helping the Army accomplish its mission